A collaborative community project was unveiled on Wednesday to build an early childhood education infrastructure capable of providing high quality, voluntary, and universal service to all children in Owensboro-Daviess County. Officials said it was a five-year project that starts with learning the problems and ends with taking action.
The project was presented by the Public Life Foundation of Owensboro (PLFO) and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. Officials said the project model aims to become a national model of how a local community provides access to early childhood education for all families who wish.
“It’s about talking about how we as a community can build a new ecosystem for early childhood education,” said Benjamin Geis, director of early childhood policy and practice for the Prichard Committee. “By this we mean how we can create a system of early childhood education – ideally for younger preschoolers – for everyone in the community who wants access to this early education.”
Geis said students who were exposed to this early education before entering kindergarten are âmuch more likely to develop math and reading skills by the end of third grade. That takes them up for the rest of their school days and for the rest of their lives up to professional life. “
According to the 2018 Community Profile (updated February 2019) submitted by the Prichard Committee, Owensboro and Daviess County’s public schools had the following educational pathways:
- Pre-school enrollment – DCPS 54%; OPS 54%
- Kindergarten maturity – DCPS 56%; OPS 44%
- 3rd grade reading skills – DCPS 61%; OPS 53%
- 3rd grade math skills – DCPS 55%; OPS 52%
- 8th grade reading skills – DCPS 46%; OPS 43%
- Math skills in 8th grade – DCPS 65%; OPS 58%
- Interim readiness – DCPS 60%; OPS 53%
- Graduation rate – DCPS 94%; OPS 84%
- Post-Secondary Enrollment – DCPS 61%; OPS 50%
- Post-Secondary Degree – DCPS 33%; OPS 33%
These percentages represent all students, but broken down by race, gaps are visible throughout the education pipeline, according to the profile provided by the Prichard Committee.
In general, with a few exceptions, white students had the highest percentages and black students the lowest, with Hispanic students in between.
These are the statistics that the Prichard Committee and PLFO are trying to analyze in order to put in place a plan to close performance gaps and create a better future for all children.
The economic impact is the second focus of the project.
“We know that parents who have access to a reliable source of early childhood care are able to make a greater contribution to the local workforce and economy,” said Geis.
Before the pandemic, 14% of parents quit their jobs, did not take work or changed jobs significantly due to problems with childcare for children under 6, according to Geis statistics. He also found that childcare costs for a toddler represent 36% of a single parent’s income, which often presents them with difficult choices about what to do with their child during the day.
Geis said they knew there are several different groups offering early education – from private daycare to religious organizations to public preschools – but there is room for improvement.
“We want to make sure that there are enough places, places and resources for every child in this county to have access to this early education,” he said. “We know it’s vital.”
Almost 50 community leaders from education at all levels, business, local and state government, non-profit organizations and other organizations attended the presentation.
Clay Ford, vice chairman of the Prichard Committee, hopes to attract as many community partners as possible to begin developing an action plan for early childhood education in Owensboro.
“We plan to make sure we learn as much as we can from what Owensboro does well and find opportunities that have proven successful,” said Ford.
He said the project was a five year commitment and something that doesn’t happen very often across the state.
âI want the community to understand the meaning of it, to understand the meaning of it, and to be immersed and supported in this process. That is how, at the end of those five years, we see that we have been able to make a difference, make some significant achievements, and move forward with pride, “said Ford.” Hopefully by the end of the five years we will look and say, that it was a worthwhile investment and that we have to move on. “